Bennett’s coolness spanned generations


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Jan 12, 2024

Bennett’s coolness spanned generations

Change is an eternal part of our world’s fabric. Since the first time a stone was used as a tool, we’ve constantly sought progress, striving for greater heights with each passing day. That’s something

Change is an eternal part of our world’s fabric. Since the first time a stone was used as a tool, we’ve constantly sought progress, striving for greater heights with each passing day. That’s something we all understand and accept.

However, amidst the ever-changing landscape, there are certain matters we expect to remain constant. Ideas like original sin, the inevitability of death and taxes, and even the familiar predictability of turning on the television.

Let me tell you a tale about a bygone era that seems so distant now, a time when what was expected tended to happen, a time that seems distant now — The 90s. It’s a topic that could fill an entire book, as I recently finished one by one of my favorite authors, Chuck Klosterman. Today, thought, I want to focus on a particular aspect that might astonish those who didn’t live through that period: cable television.

Back then, words evidently carried more weight. Channels like TLC (The Learning Channel) truly lived up to their name, offering enriching content rather than today’s programs like 90 Day Fiancé or the sophisticatedly named MILF Manor. Bravo centered on the fine arts, not the drama of Real Housewives of Wherever. And, brace yourself, but MTV used to actually focus on the “M” in its name, which surprisingly to anyone who tunes in today stands for music.

For my teenage self, gaining access to MTV through a satellite dish was a revelation. Living in rural Kentucky, where non-country radio stations were scarce, this channel connected me to the music I loved. Shows like Alternative Nation and 120 Minutes made me feel like an industry insider, exploring an entirely new world.

Let’s jump to 1993 when I was 16, eagerly tuning in to watch the VMAs — MTV’s hipper version of the Grammys. It was an unforgettable show with stellar performances. Lenny Kravitz teamed up with John Paul Jones, Pearl Jam backed Neil Young, and R.E.M., my all-time favorite band, delivered two electrifying live performances.

Among the presenters in the show were the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a band I loved and whom I expected to bring some unpredictability to the stage. After all, these were the guys famous for performing while wearing nothing but strategically placed socks. Yet, even though I anticipated the unexpected, they still caught me off guard. They stood there at the podium, side by side with . . . Tony Bennett?

Of course, I knew of Tony Bennett, but I’d never really listened to his work. He was like Perry Como or Pat Boone — legendary names from the musical past, but in a pre-Beatles era to which I gave little of my time. For my teenage self, they were ancient history, and it might as well have been Alexander the Great sharing the state with Anthony Kiedis and Flea.

Soon, the surreal nature of this event would continue. The next month, MTV started airing Tony’s “Steppin’ Out with My Baby” video, and the guy was undeniably cool. It may have been the grunge era, but there he was, suddenly in vogue with a new generation. Within months, Bennett was headlining MTV Unplugged, solidifying his unexpected resurgence.

In the midst of this revival, I bought the “Steppin’ Out” album and played it on repeat. I’ll never forget the puzzled look my mother gave me as she said, “You’re listening to . . . Tony Bennett?” Yes, I was, and I absolutely loved it!

You see, Tony Bennett did something for me. He opened my eyes to the idea of keeping an open mind. Despite being the flannel-shirt-wearing, backward-hat-sporting kid who loved alternative rock, I realized I didn’t have to be confined to a single genre. I became the kid who could listen to Nirvana, Johnny Cash and Tony Bennett back-to-back. Over the years, my musical tastes expanded even further, embracing the likes of Arlo Guthrie and N.W.A. alongside the more predictable Alice in Chains. If Tony Bennett could be cool in 1993, four decades after his first album, then I could listen to whatever I pleased without fearing it would diminish any “coolness” that I might have.

As Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, eloquently stated, “The world is a diverse place. Nobody has a monopoly on virtue or wisdom.” Though Tony Bennett taught me this lesson about music, it’s a philosophy that holds true in all aspects of life.

Sadly, Tony Bennett passed away on July 21st at age 96. His accomplishments are astounding — selling over 50 million records, winning 20 Grammys, recording over 100 albums, and achieving 33 top 20 hits. And though we never met, he left an indelible mark on me. So let us bid farewell to my longtime friend, and may he rest in peace.

TOMMY DRUEN is a resident of Scott County. He can be reached at [email protected].

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